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Panhandlers Express Cautious Optimism Over New Program Aimed At Helping Them

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Clarence panhandles at the intersection of Viers Mill Road and University Boulevard in Wheaton, Md.
WAMU/Elliott Francis
Clarence panhandles at the intersection of Viers Mill Road and University Boulevard in Wheaton, Md.

Text 'share' to 80077 to contribute $5 to the Community Foundation for Montgomery County a non-profit, non-government organization that will distribute the proceeds to grassroots efforts to help people in need.

As community leaders in Montgomery County roll out a new program to reduce the number of panhandlers, some of the folks who might benefit are expressing cautious optimism.

Clarence, who won't give his last name, panhandles on the corner of Veirs Mill Road and University Boulevard in Wheaton. It's been a daily effort for him ever since he lost his job as a laborer two years ago, and today is not a good day.

"Sometimes it's hard to get five or ten dollars," he says. "I'm having a hard time now."

Clarence, who appears older than his 55 years, is just one of hundreds of panhandlers the county is looking to remove from the streets with their new "Give a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out" initiative.

Instead of giving a quarter or dollar to a panhandler, the program asks residents to text the word "Share" in order to contribute $5 to a non-profit, non-governmental organization that reaches out to homeless panhandlers in the county.

He's encouraged, but for Clarence, action speaks louder than words.

"That's what they said, but sometimes that money goes to them and then it goes to wherever they want it to go. It could go into their pocket, so anything could happen. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't," he says.

Kim Ball is the administrator for homeless services in Montgomery County says that the program will have a larger impact than the handout the motorist might give a panhandler on a daily basis.

"That quarter and that dollar does not provide a basic need. We have so many other services that we want to connect them to and we want to make sure that we get those basic needs met," she says.

Donations will be distributed by the Community Foundation of Montgomery County.

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